The Christian Church... Then & Now
The story of the Christian Church is a remarkable account of a movement that transitioned from the fringes to the mainstream of North American Church life. It is a story of courage, conviction, and renewal. The Canadian Evangelical Christian Fellowship traces its roots to this movement that made its way into the Protestant mainstream in Canada.
The "Christian Church" restoration movement emerged in Virginia, USA, under the leadership of James O'Kelly, a Methodist minister. Concerns over the misuse of Episcopal power in the Methodist Conference began to surface and came to a head at the 1792 General Conference.
O'Kelly, along with other elders in the Methodist Church, withdrew from the conference and determined that their churches would be known only by the name "Christian" and that Christ would be the only Head. This new movement of autonomous churches came to be known as the "Christian Church." Under O'Kelly's skillful leadership this new Christian Church conference grew rapidly.
At the same time, Baptist preachers in New England shared a similar desire to free the Church from ecclesiastical authority. Without any connection to O'Kelly's renewal movement, these preachers began teaching that "Christian" was the only name given to believers in the Bible. Over time these churches withdrew from their denominations and began to associate with O'Kelly's Christian Churches. These two movements officially joined forces and came to be known as the Christian Connexion.
In 1803, a group of Kentucky Presbyterians, led by Rev. Barton Stone, began to pursue the unique ideal of being "Christians only." Stone, a Presbyterian minister, had been impressed by the display of Christian unity experienced between disparate Church groups during the Great Cane Ridge Revivals. Ministers began to question the validity of ecclesiastical structures and denominations that hampered fellowship among Christians. Individual Churches in Kentucky and Ohio began to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church to identify themselves as Christians only. Stone's movement of "Christians only," and O'Kelly's Christian Connexion came together and under Stone's capable leadership adopted the name 'The Christian Church.'
This new found spirit of unity spread rapidly through the American frontier and made its way to Canada where it offered a revitalizing brand of ecclesiology to the Canadian Church experience. The first Christian Church in Upper Canada was established in Keswick, in 1821. Keswick Christian Church is a member of the Canadian Evangelical Christian Fellowship (CECF) and continues to meet and worship. Founded in 2006, the CECF is proud to stay true to its revitalizing traditions in the Christian Church restoration movement.
The Christian Church contributes meaningfully to the Canadian Church experience with its alternative vision of Church governance, its focus on Scripture, and its open-hearted unity and cooperation. Its brief history in Canada is a testimonial to the conviction and faithfulness of those who shared a determined vision to give faithful witness to the truth of God's kingdom on earth. The Canadian Evangelical Christian Fellowship is proud to be part of such a rich ecclesiastical tradition.
Central to God's mission in and to the world is the witness of the unity and oneness of his Church. Jesus prayed that the Church would know complete unity so the world would know that he was sent from the Father - John 17:23. In God's kingdom the witness of His Spirit empowers mutuality and servanthood over worldly models of leadership. The CECF invites churches to join in this unifying witness under the Lordship of Jesus Christ for the sake of God's mission.
Over the years, the Christian Church has identified a short list of principles that define our sense of uniqueness and place as an ecclesiological movement in Canada. We believe these principles continue to represent the opportunity for authentic life and renewal in the Church today. Please feel free to contact us for more information.
Statement of Polity of the Christian Church
- We believe that Jesus Christ is Head of His body, the Church universal, and of each local Church.
- We believe that each Church is in itself a complete Church and therefore autonomous and possesses, by the Holy Spirit, all the rights and responsibilities of the Church as set forth in the Holy Scriptures.
- We believe that Jesus Christ exercises His authority in each local Church by the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Scriptures.
- We believe that each local Church is amenable only to Jesus Christ, and not to any association, conference, council, synod or any other ecclesiastical body.
- We believe that it is proper and beneficial for each local Church to seek fellowship and counsel of other local churches.
Historic Principles of the Christian Church
- Jesus Christ the sole Head of the Church.
- Christian the only name.
- The divinely inspired Scriptures, otherwise known as the Bible, the sole rule of faith and practice.
- The duty and privilege of each member to interpret, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Bible for themselves.
- Christian character - that is the experience of new birth in Christ expressing itself in daily living - the sole test of fellowship.
- The unity of believers our aim, as a witness to Christ's atonement for sin, and to the end that all may be saved by faith in Him.